Dear Fitting Room Designers:

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I made the mistake of trying on a pair of pants for size in Woolworths, yesterday in their brand new shiny change rooms. Too shiny. I didn’t buy the trousers. And it was the place’s fault.

If I were asked to survey fitting rooms in clothing stores, I could really give them some pointers.

Firstly: subdued lighting is a must. Harsh neon lighting just doesn’t do it for my skin. The last thing you want if you’re trying to flog clothes is for me to be so grossed out by my own face that I cannot look in the mirror. I do not know anyone who looks good under fluorescent lights. For me it is certainly not my best look – the freckles stand out, surrounded by pasty, creamish blahness, no matter how many layers of face paint and contouring have been applied. I have dark rings under my eyes too which make me resemble a nagapie at the best of times. I do not need stage lighting to assist. Also if I am tired, the little critters are Gucci-carry-on-luggage- sized bags, so they definitely detract from the garments I am fitting on.

And it’s not just our faces that we have to see in this light: it is our derrieres, which are normally…well…behind us, where we can pretend they are smooth discs of even, beach-ready roundness. Instead we are confronted by massively cratered moons which are nothing like Queen imagined in ‘Fat-bottomed Girls’ – multiplied by three – going all the way to infinity if the looking glasses are angled into Alice’s bizarre world. Personally I believe the dark-side of the moon is a better look.

Mirrors should also be artfully angled so as to make one be longer and slimmer. Even if we know this is a clever illusion, we still want to imagine ourselves looking a bit like the impossibly slim wax mannequin, adorned outside on the shop floor in the garment in question. (Have you noticed that they are always on tippy toe – probably so they can show off outrageously uncomfortable high-heeled shoes too – but that makes them seem even taller.) Every film study student will tell you that a low angle shot makes one look taller and more powerful. I’m happy to go with both those delusions.

Curtains versus doors? Definitely doors (which lock, please). So often, one ends up with a faulty door latch. One that bolts is preferable. While sumptuous curtains look good, draped dramatically across the opening in oh-so-elegant boutiques, I am always terrified that some over-eager stick insect assistant will just pop her head in and reveal me in my big panties so that the creepy chap lounging outside will have an eyeful of the rear end of the Bentley.

The door should fit all the way to the floor, I beg you.

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For those of us who have had divide clothes into ‘Not-in-this-lifetime,’ Maybe-if-I-lose-10kg’ or ‘Oh-Baby-You’re-So-Hot! hooks (there must be at least three hooks) while dodging a pair of boys playing with a car, and hopping on one foot as you attempt to free the inside-out trouser leg from the shoe you should have removed first, it is no fun then to have said vehicle be sent down the back strait and under the door, out of reach of the soon-to-be screeching boys (even men-children hate shopping).  Then you have to twist around quickly, with your boot still caught in the once neatly ironed pants, to prevent over-helpful big sister from lurching out to fetch it for them, at which point, once again the dodgy oom outside is treated to a gander of your moon broekies.  If it’s not your own children who reach under those awful saloon-style doors, it’s other matrons’ sticky fingered brats whose fingers appear like tentacles of slimy, Nik Naks goo tempting you to injure said digits with a healthy tap dance. So, dear retail outlets, given us full-figured doors I beg you.

While pondering whether objects in the rear view mirror are closer or really just as large as they appear, you realise it is the fault of those disturbingly deceptively sized numbers that are the right size, but too small:  You could swear they will fit you and then you get the bodice on and your arms half in and ‘gasp’, you can’t breathe, and – worse – it’s not on properly and no matter how much you attempt to make like Connie the Contortionist, you can’t get it off. Inevitably it is at that moment that Shannon will have put a Jelly Tot (the bribe to ‘behave’) in Liam’s ear or Caitlin will have swallowed yet another R2 coin. And you are, like ‘Chad’ in Charlie’s Angels – well and truly STUCK. ‘Ripping your clothes off’ takes on a whole new meaning, but the temptation is real.

And you can’t really leave the cubs outside the cubicle because then just as you are realising that  what appeared to be stylishly loose fitting on the rack merely hugs all the unmelted baby fat, you hear Michael’s infectious giggle becoming louder. And you just know something is up out there. Dreading that it is your children’s paws which have invaded another patron’s shopping nightmare and which are about to be pierced by a suburban stiletto heel, you burst out to check/glare/chide so you at least appear to be in control of the five worms lined up against the wall, catching the eye of the petite assistant who frowns at the sight of you balancing a dress on your hips and once again there are those knickers for the old man who is seeing more of your skin than a Russian dancer at Mavericks.

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She shakes her head knowingly as you hand her the unpurchased hangers of clothes as you leave shamefacedly, wondering why you can never find anything to buy. Or else you avoid the body-shaming experience entirely and just buy whatever looks attractive on the hanger, only to end up with a cupboard full of ill-fitting clothes.

Well that’s my excuse anyway.

The Worst Fashion Mistakes I have made

  1. The Perm

That’s me on the left, holding the pork chop at my dad’s wedding.


To be fair, it was the eighties-look. To be honest, I held on too long – okay into the next century. My husband says that if I ever perm my hair again he will take that as a sign that I want him to leave. I so wanted to be Maeve, the Celtic Queen. Clearly it didn’t work.

  1. Stick on Nails

I really loved the length of these, but the problem is they don’t stay stuck on so you tend to leave a trail of body parts behind you. I had some awkward moments when they popped off in meetings. ‘Whoops’ doesn’t quite cover it in those seconds! Also the glue (while it was not foolproof on the nails) stuck to everything else and ruined several trousers of mine where it dropped and even caused a hole in my sheet! The Bentley fashion police declared that they had to go (he was tired of finding lonely pinky nails in his car – although I am surprised he found ANYthing amongst the detritus of MacDonalds splurges, old ties and musical scores languishing amidst sweet wrappers and CD cases.) He threatened  to get a tattoo if I continued and since one should never put a bumper sticker on a Bentley (and I was damaging my nails) I relented.

  1. Golf Shirts and baggy T-shirts

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I mean look at that:. These were designed for men. And that’s what flat chested women look like in them. Have you ever noticed though that corporate clothing automatically includes such apparel, even in education where the majority of staff members are women. And for those of us who were standing behind the door when the boobs were handed out , but were blessed with fat which gravitates downwards to occupy cuddly rolls around our middles, this is not a good look. That’s why, now that I am a head of a school, we are sourcing corporate blouses in dignified styles. If I am going to wear a logo, it will be on a girl’s top thank you.

  1. Court Shoes

We called them ‘Lady Di’ shoes in the early eighties. Now on the People’s Princess they looked elegant, but on small, fat and flat feet? Not so much. And the ones I bought for my graduation caused me huge embarrassment because I walked out of both of them on my way to the stage for my moment of glory. At least the vice chancellor was smiling in my pics compared to others, but still. And they made my ankles look fat.

  1. Skinny jeans

I’ll just leave this here.

  1. Hotbrushed bangs


You see everyone wanted to be like Farrah Fawcett. Come to think of it, it wasn’t even a good look on her!

  1. Plunging Necklines 

Sometimes less is more and sometimes it’s…well…less. And either way that doesn’t go with the ‘boss’ look. Andrew didn’t mind until we became a couple and then he was advocating full purdah.

  1. Glasses on a Chain

I was told that I look like this:

When really I thought I looked like this:

Anyway the only reason I stopped using the chain was that it broke. I found it most useful and shall probably purchase another one when I find one I like. So take that, Fashion Fascists.

  1. The Baggy Jersey 

When I was 17, my friend’s mother made me a jersey from 4 squares. It was warm and snuggly, but eventually it stretched down to my knees. I wore it everywhere and embarrassed my entire family in the process. I loved it even though it was hideous. Thank goodness no photograph has survived.

  1. Fur 

Just once ok (and it was at home) I tried on the fur stole I inherited from my mother-in-law. I did not, however, have the guts to wear it to the matric dance where I was a role model for young people. What does one do with those long ago fashions that are quite beautiful; yet so incredibly un pc that one simply cannot wear them?

So that is my confession and it is a good one. I promise never to sin again (unless I find a really cool chain for my glasses.) But hey, It could be worse: I never wore Crocs, or twerked around, exposing my lumps bumps and bulges in leggings and a crop top, even when I run (Oh no I don’t run); I never had a mullet or adorned my locks with a fascinator at a wedding. (Those things are simply dreadful: who thinks that attaching half a florist on your head will be fetching?! The only creatures who may be fascinated would be half-drunk bees.)  I do not go to the shop in my pyjamas.

Ramp model I may not be, but I still have the best accessory: a Bentley.


Grocery Shopping in the RSA

Did you know that the inflation rate on food in South Africa stands at 12.5% for the third quarter of 2016 and that is not factoring in the inflation of an additional 5% per growing (and therefore gobbling more) child permanently resident in our household. (I dare not say which one is not growing further for fear of reprisals.)

So grocery shopping is not fun anymore, if it ever was. I suffer from terrible trolley envy when I stand in queues, wandering how that man in the mesh vest behind me can afford the box of prawns and all that tinned coconut milk, or the aging prune in front can even begin to pay for 2 ply toilet paper and lamb, not to mention my veritable outrage that someone else won the free shopping spree at Spar, when I deserve it more!

When the munchkins were small, shopping was even more of a mission and they each had their ‘positions’ in, on or around the trolley. I’d bribe them to behave by buying the cheapest biscuits I could find and I’d do our weekly shop of R500 for all 6 of us (and that was including nappies). Now of course that’s what it costs every second day in the supermarket, but in those days I could feed us all on a tin of baked beans, a chunk of cheese and half a loaf of bread (well everyone except Michael who used to flick his beans on top of the kitchen cupboards when no one was looking. It’s no wonder the kid had hypoglycaemic issues.)

My beloved gannets eat well when we are poorest though and they all know that when it’s Woolworths food then Mom is down to her last few shekels. The problem with buying where the beautiful people shop though is that it is just iniquitous to spend so much on ordinary items like mince and cheese.  Mind you, the price of dairy products has reached stratospheric heights. I am seriously considering hooking Maggie’s tail up to a churner so we can make our own butter (after all Dr Tim says butter is all good now) and I’m sure there are enough germs around the old homestead to ferment our own cheese and let’s face it, the foul language that flies around here at times is certainly enough to turn the milk.

Eggs also seem to be costing the earth these days, but I draw the line at keeping chickens in the yard. Besides, Maggie’s Labrador innocence deserts her in the face of feathered wings and she has been known to brutalise a pigeon or two over the years with frighteningly savage precision.

Then there are avocados: now have you EVER been able to find three ripe ones out of a pile of the green rocks they usually offer without having to donate a kidney for the ones in the fridge which are specially ripened? And those ones are always black. I wonder if they cook ‘em a little to soften them – it would explain their crispy skins too? We have discovered to our great joy that we have an avocado tree in our garden which from time to time drops mango-sized scrumptious avos onto the lawn like …well…avo from heaven. So this earth mother thing may well work.

Now shopping for my husband’s favourite delicacies is an exercise in Russian-English translation because he insists on scrawling unintelligible items on the shopping list. What, pray tell, may ‘spinyhjatyi’ and ‘tuhmatyi souz’ be? And ‘buzzy’ water? Trust me at 6pm on a week night I have no sense of humour and even less desire to be a UN translator.  What are ‘tjops’ or ‘Barbie Q Spices’? I do not care to purchase ‘limmon wyatr’ or ‘lzzaneya shits,’ never mind that this has all played havoc with ability of the children in the house to spell correctly, not to mention contributing to the vulgar language use.

And when I get to the till and the burly chap who is built like a side of beef himself has selected enough racks of pork ribs to fill an entire sty also wants to pay for his telephone bill and his City of Cape Town Services accounts for the last three months when he was vegging in front of the rugby instead of paying his dues., my temper graduates to DEFCON 2 readiness. Then the sweet cashier politely asks whether I am collecting ‘the stickers/ other random Stikeez (more Slavic giveaways) supermarkets throw at unsuspecting shoppers with kids. Did you know that as we speak, Checkers is generously throwing in doll-size plastic groceries for every R150 you spend? Seriously?! (I wonder if they have Barbie Q spice)

‘Hell no,’ I say, even though the delightful Gabriella, Michael’s girlfriend, is collecting the said stickers (why, I didn’t ask!). I want the points on my loyalty card – for when the Woolworths card is full.

And when you pay they ask you if your card is for a cheque or savings account. More like ‘check out or spendings.’ Who can save anymore?!

Andrew says we should shop online to save money, but where’s the fun in that?

On the the rack about off the rack

Hi. My name is Colleen and I am a shopaholic.

Bargain boutiques are my poison. In fact I am embarrassed to admit that I am probably single-handedly responsible for the Chinese invasion of Africa. It is a trifle disconcerting to hear the throaty chuckle of the delighted, elderly proprietor 16824432-Girl-with-shopping-bags-sale-cartoon-Stock-Vectorof my local Chinese store as I enter her irresistible shop. Forget that ‘inscrutable Chinese thing’. You can see her develop yuan signs in her gleaming eyes when she welcomes me in, unable to resist rubbing her hands together in glee. The little treasure trove inhabits a spot right next to the ATM so I have real trouble avoiding it.

My two daughters encourage different types of addict’s behaviour from me: Shannon is an enabler (actually an encourager and very often a downright, pompom waving cheerleader), yet Caitlin’s accountant husbandry brings out the sneak in me. The boys go for interventionist behaviour and physically remove me from the vicinity, but that’s just because they hate waiting while I browse for a good buy alongside giggling shop assistants.

An addict tends towards excessive consumption of the addictive substance and I have been known to purchase items in more than one colour – ok I often do that – but it’s because I battle to make decisions. Anyway, less is not more. More is more.

I’ve heard that addicts frequent various establishments to obtain the object of their obsession, and I have noticed this tendency in myself. But sometimes other outlets sell the same item cheaper, so it pays to shop around.

So what if I feel better after an impulse buying spree?! Thrift shop therapy is seriously cheaper than Prozac or a counsellor.

At least I’m not in denial. Then I’d really have a problem.